The Little Black Boy

The Little Black Boy

by William Blake

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:
But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say.

Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

Thus did my mother say and kissed me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:

Ill shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.

Summary of The Little Black Boy

  • Popularity of “The Little Black Boy”: William Blake, a great English poet, wrote, ‘The Little Black Boy’. The poem expresses the importance of equality. It was first published in 1789 in Songs of Innocence. The poem speaks about the equal rights of people. It also illustrates that God’s love is for everyone regardless of the caste, color, or creed. The poem also talks about God’s grace.
  • “The Little Black Boy” As a Representative of God’s Love: The poem presents the world’s outlook toward the dark skin, which is associated with suffering and miseries. The poem begins with a stark comparison of an African boy with an English Boy. Although his skin is dark, his soul is as pure as the English child’s soul. He remembers his mother told him that his dark skin is the result of constant and direct exposure to the sun. Using the metaphor of the sun, the mother explains that the sun brings heat and shadow to us. The natural objects and human beings receive comfort and happiness from it. As the poem continues, the mother tries to teach his son the power of love. To her, humans are provided with little space to understand the huge phenomenon of love. The tanned-color, she describes, is a temporary cloud that vanishes when we learn to adore God’s love.
    The speaker decides to tell these phenomena to the English boy and look forward to the time when they will throw their temporary clouds to love and respect each other truly. What, however, stays in the minds of the readers is the way he promotes equality using the phenomenon of God’s love.
  • Major Themes in “The Little Black Boy”: Equality, racism, and God’s love are the major themes of this poem. On a surface level, the poem reflects the mother’s sentiments about how she makes her son hopeful about the future. She comforts him and makes him understand that they will soon meet their good fortune. The poem shows injustices against the African community in the UK and the US during those times. Many non-Caucasian people face discrimination due to the color of their skin. They can do nothing to change the ongoing practices. They can only hope for the good days when the boundaries between the two will be demolished, and they will embrace each other.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Little Black Boy”

Literary devices are used to connect readers with the text. They bring richness to the text and help us in understanding the hidden meaning of the text. William Blake has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sounds of /i/ and /a/ in “I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,” the sound of /o/ in “And I am black, but O! my soul is white”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /b/ in “And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face”.
  3. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it continues in the next line. For example,

“When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “My mother taught me underneath a tree”, “When I from black and he from white cloud free” and “Thus did my mother say and kissed me.”
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal meanings. “Color” symbolizes the status or ethnicity of people in the world.
  3. Simile: It is a figure of speech used to compare a person or an object with something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. For example, “White as an angel is the English child”, “But I am black as if bereav’d of light” and “And round the tent of God like lambs we joy.” Here a white boy is compared to an angel, black boy compares himself with a dark object, and children are compared to the lambs.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Little Black Boy”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “space/face”, “knee/me” and “boy/joy.”
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, each stanza is a quatrain.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues until the end.
  4. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are seven stanzas in this poem, with each having an equal number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

  1. The lines stated below are useful in a speech delivered on the topic of love and spirituality.

“And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

  1. The below lines can be used to explain children about equality. We can also add that in God’s eyes there are no black or white and everyone’s equal.

Thus did my mother say and kissed me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy: